Audience Engagement Digital Publishing
5 mins read

“There’s literally no patience”: Young people and the news

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One of the many challenges publishers today are trying to tackle is how to reach a younger audience. As news consumers are feared to be only getting older and older, exactly how to reach this new audience is becoming crucial. That’s why we have gathered the latest research on young people and the news here, along with interesting insights and initiatives to inspire your strategy going forward.

Young people are actually interested in news

Sometimes we see a negative stereotype of young people in the news media industry: they are not interested in news, instead focusing on entertainment content and social media. But this is false, a Knight Foundation survey of 18- to 34-year-olds found that they are active consumers of news, with 88% accessing news at least once a week and 53% accessing news once a day. Going even younger, Common Sense Media found in a recent survey that 78% of teens age 13-17 said it was important to them to follow current events. A similar analysis done at Schibsted showed that among the audience of VG, young people are also concerned with the same news topics, and want to deepen their understanding.

But then why does this stereotype persist? Often it is because young people do not see themselves represented in traditional media so they are turning to other sources of news. In a report from Reuters Institute on young people and the news, researchers found that traditional news brands see news solely as “what you should know” while young audiences instead see news as also “what is useful to know, what is interesting to know, and what is fun to know.”

That is not to say though that younger readers aren’t interested in traditional media, and its formats. Our research last year showed that all generations of readers are roughly evenly split over preference for news formats. Often there’s a feeling that bundled and curated content, such as editions, are best suited for an older audience, however we see that younger readers also value the sense of completion that editions provide.

Digital natives expect better product experiences

Young people today grew up in the digital world, they believe their technology should work without a lag. They expect to be able to access news conveniently and without any friction. Watching movies on Netflix, streaming music on Spotify, getting updates from friends on social media: these are the most common online activities of young people and there is no reason why reading news should provide a different experience.

There’s literally no patience. If you think about how traditional organisations have set up their sites to be interruptive and not load instantly, it’s not hard to see why those experiences have not resonated in the way Facebook and Instagram, for example, has.

Nic Newman, senior researcher at the Reuters Institute

This expectation is only growing with the new generations. Millennials, born between 1981 – 1996, are more often called “digital migrants” meaning they can for the most part still remember a time before their whole life was digital. As such they are slightly more forgiving for slow, laggy, or otherwise underwhelming product experiences. However Gen Z, born between 1997 – 2015, are true digital natives and have no tolerance for inconvenient digital news experiences. As Gen Z continues to grow up, publishers will undoubtedly need to further invest in their digital products to reach new subscribers.

Need to be where young people already are

To bring younger readers onto publishers’ own platforms however, it is crucial to first meet these young readers where they already are. In the research conducted by Reuters Institute, a staggering fact stood out: Instagram was the primary app on the profiled participants’ phones. Every single respondent had the app on their phone. No news app, with the exception of Reddit, was within the top 25 apps used by the respondents.

Publishers need to prioritise their Instagram strategies if they want to reach young people in the future. We’ve seen success from publishers on Instagram, both with regular posts but also with their Stories. In fact, Reuters predicts that this year Stories will surpass feeds as the main way people share news with friends, a sentiment shared by Facebook Chief Product Officer, Chris Cox. That might be one reason why The Guardian announced earlier this year they were funding #ThisMuchIKnow, an Instagram-only news organisation.

Another difference with the younger audience is that they seem to be skipping out on the resurgence of email newsletters. That’s why when then 13-year-old Olivia Seltzer launched theCramm in 2017, she included text updates as a key delivery method. Offering a daily look at major stories from around the world, this news organization is for, and by, young people. Now every morning before school, Olivia Seltzer wakes up at 5 am to read through the news to create a daily overview for subscribers. She knows her young audience best, so she makes sure to reach them where they actually are every day. Al Jazeera even took it one step further, directly reaching out to its young adult audience on Tinder. Producer Yasmina Bennani used the dating app to reach young people across Europe to discuss their views on the European Union before the European elections.

No matter what, it’s clear though that publishers need to start early if they want to develop a lifelong reading habit in younger audiences. That’s one reason why some publishers are offering free content to schools and universities. For example, The Financial Times lifts the paywall for students at participating schools, and these students are also sent curated newsletters based on their specific studies.

By engaging with the younger generations, introducing them to the brand from a young age, creating the habit and building up the longer-term relationship The Financial Times will look to coach the individuals through their life cycle and eventually migrate them up to being fully paid subscribers.

Greg Harwood, director at strategy and marketing consultancy Simon-Kucher & Partners

This is something we heard at the Digital Growth Summit earlier this month too. Reuters Institute’s Nic Newman shared that many younger subscribers already have a relationship with a certain newspaper brand that was built from a very young age when their parents would read the newspaper. This is referred to as an anchor brand. With this project from The Financial Times, the newspaper is aiming to become an anchor brand for students who did not already grow up with the FT’s journalism in their home.

Mary-Katharine Phillips
Media innovation analyst @ Twipe